On location with Leslie Ann Wills-Caton, Film Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago
TLG speaks to Leslie Ann Wills-Caton, General Manager/ Film Commissioner of FilmTT Film Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago Film Company who shows some of the Caribbean island's interesting locations, the 5-35% rebate system and what filming infrastructure is available.
"A place that has rarely been seen on the big or small international screen, the opportunities are endless to present this location as fresh and new to the world."
Please introduce yourself and Film TT?
As the General Manager / Film Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago Film Company [FilmTT] I am responsible for all aspects of film sector development, promoting Trinidad and Tobago as a film location and providing Film Commission services to local and incoming productions. In this position with the film commission, I have acted as a liaison for Trinidad and Tobago, the industry and the community at large, advocating for better understanding of the industry and benefits of local participation. Handling production requests and referrals, working with vendors and production crews, facilitating incentive grants and actively focusing on capacity development initiatives to build on the strengths of production houses, location managers, scouts, producers, and various industry professionals is all part of the role.
Prior to working for the film commission, I founded the Film and Folklore Festival and freelanced in the film/ television industry for 11 years; much of that time as a production manager, producer, assistant director and locations manager working on numerous motion pictures, music videos, commercials, TV series and online content. In addition, I actively support numerous film festivals and industry organizations.
The Trinidad and Tobago Film Company Limited (FilmTT) is the state agency established in 2006 to facilitate the growth and development of the film and audio-visual sector in Trinidad & Tobago. As a subsidiary of the Trinidad and Tobago Creative Industries Company Limited, FilmTT works on all aspects of film sector development, promotes Trinidad & Tobago as a film production location, and provides Film Commission services to local and incoming productions. FilmTT’s mission is to maximise the economic and creative potential of Trinidad and Tobago’s screen industries for the benefit of the country and its people.
What infrastructure is available in the islands that incoming productions can rely on?
Trinidad and Tobago has a trained and talented crew base that can service small up to medium-sized features or serial productions at a time, in the budget range of US$1M–$10M. In the past, we have welcomed major productions from CBS, VH1, ITV and the BBC and continue to capture the interest of international productions from the UK, US, Europe and the Caribbean region.
What are some of the most in demand locations?
Trinidad & Tobago is captivating and unforgettable. A place that has rarely been seen on the big or small international screen, the opportunities are endless to present this location as fresh and new to the world. Commercial and television series productions usually select Trinidad and Tobago for features on nature, unique structures and its diverse festivals. These backdrops can be found in the urban, beaches and forested areas of both islands. Some of these key locations can be found on our FilmTT Location database.
- Pigeon Point Beach & Nylon Pool. Located on the western coast of the island, Pigeon Point beach sits within a 125 acre nature reserve, which is a haven for weddings, water sports and boat tours to the Nylon Pool a 3ft swimming pool situated in middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
- Recently featured in CBS Amazing Race S32 Ep.1 and ITV Ainsley’s Caribbean Kitchen Series 2 Ep 3
- Bon Accord Lagoon – Bioluminescent plankton that is a favorite eco-tourism spot. Recently featured on National Geographic Traveller (UK)
- Asa Wright Nature Centre: A chosen location for eco-tourists and bird watchers. Recently seen in Alien World Ep.3 this forested area is located in the north eastern part of Trinidad
- Bamboo Cathedral: A 300-metre stretch of roadway where the bamboo stalks bend towards each other above the road. Located in the northwest, this site was recently featured in the VH1 reality series Love & Hip Hop Atlanta SE 8 Ep.1
- Chacachacare Island, one of the many islands off the north western coast was once a leper colony run by Dominican Nuns from Bugundy France in the late 1800s. The supernatural stories attached to the abandoned structures lent to its feature on the promotional tour for the Warner Brothers movie The Nun. On the island is a natural hyper-saline pond surrounded by mangroves.
- Caroni Swamp & Bird Sanctuary: 12,000 acres of swamp and mangroves on the central western side of the island. The location is home to various fauna including the Scarlet Ibis which can be seen at dusk as they return home in large flocks.
- La Brea Pitch Lake: The world's largest deposit of natural asphalt, located in southwest Trinidad. Native Amerindians believe the Gods created it as punishment for a tribe who ate hummingbirds. The site has been a global provider of asphalt around the globe and remains a popular local and international tourist destination.
Can you show us some of the more unexpected spots?
Trinidad and Tobago is much more than the standard Caribbean prototype of sun, sea and sand. Its unique locations reflect its ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. Many of these ethnic and religious festivals such as Hosay, Divali, Emancipation are a few of the national holidays that transform the islands streets. A few notable cultural locations can be found here:
- Carnival in Port of Spain: The nation’s capital and the island’s major urban centre, hosts the largest street parade of bands. The most mainstream media feature was on the VH1 reality series Girls’ Cruise and Calypso Rose, Coachella Curated 2019
- Dattatreya Yoga Center and Mandir and 85ft statue of Hanuman Murti. Located in central-west Trinidad. This Hindu religious site is on a compound situated in the suburban village of Carapichaima.
- Sewdass Sadhu Shiv Mandir (Temple in the Sea), located in the central Trinidad Featured in Ainsley’s Caribbean Kitchen Series 2 Ep 3
- Goat & Crab Racing Festival in Bucco. Goat & Crab Racing festival occurs on the Tuesday after Easter Sunday which is a holiday in Tobago. Goat racing featured on CBS Amazing Race S32 Ep.1
How does the rebate programme work?
FilmTT facilitates the administration of the country’s Rebate programme which is an incentive offered to local and international productions. Productions can receive up to 55% cash back on qualifying production expenses based on the following tiered system:
- 5% cash back on qualifying expenses, for budgets ranging between US$100,000 – US$499,999, plus 20% cash back for hiring local labour.
- 15%% cash back on qualifying expenses, for budgets ranging between US$500,000 – US$999,999, plus 20% cash back for hiring local labour.
- 35% cash back on qualifying expenses, for budgets ranging between US$1,000,000 – US$8,000,000, plus 20% cash back for hiring local labour.
What are the best times of year to shoot in Trinidad and Tobago & how should productions plan for tropical conditions?
Trinidad and Tobago has two climates. Dry season: January – June, Rainy Season: June – December. Trinidad lies outside the hurricane belt, and the best time to shoot is in the dry season. Peak period is during the Carnival season, which starts in January and ends on Ash Wednesday (February/March). Due to the high volume of events and visitors on location for the festivities, there is a shortage of major accommodation available on short notice.
Productions should plan well in advance for any activity to be shot during Carnival period, securing logistics by November of the year before and ensuring that visiting crew are up to date on routine vaccinations.
What precautions or regulation are in place to support filming during Covid-19?
Productions are allowed as long as they follow the current guidelines and laws enacted by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some of these laws include the number of persons allowed to gather for occasions and activities; as well as restriction of international travel which at this time is only permitted via requests to the Ministry of National Security. FilmTT has created guidelines that productions can follow to during the pandemic: https://filmtt.co.tt/2020/07/08/covid-19-film-industry-guidelines/
There are additional national public regulations and guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- Ministry of Health Guidelines: https://health.gov.tt/covid-19/covid-19-guidelines-and-regulations
- Public Health Regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19: http://www.ttparliament.org/documents/news/mrD82420.pdf
- Travel Exemption Requests from the Ministry of National Security: https://nationalsecurity.gov.tt/travel-exemptions/
What is the focus of Film TT in 2021?
The company will continue to provide its film commission services some of which include:
- Arranging entry of equipment, cast and crew for incoming productions.
- Arranging work permits for visiting cast and crew.
- Connecting international producers to local production companies and fixers to manage production logistics.
- Providing production support services for local producers.
The company’s support of the development of the local industry includes collaboration with experienced international organisations ready to train and transfer their expertise to an emerging industry.
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